Is fish farming profitable

Agricultural fish production in indoor facilities is only profitable to a limited extent

With the aim of supporting agricultural businesses in their economic development, fenaco has used a test system to analyze the profitability of agricultural fish production over the past three years. The result: An investment in an indoor fish fattening system can only be recommended under the current conditions. It remains a niche market.

The fenaco cooperative is tasked with supporting Swiss farmers in the economic development of their farms. A few years ago there was a gold rush atmosphere in the fish sector: Farmers were given the prospect of high profits if they convert vacant buildings on their farms into indoor fish facilities. In order to be able to provide competent advice to interested farmers on relevant investment decisions, fenaco implemented a test system in Büron (LU) in 2017 and has since analyzed the profitability of indoor agricultural fish production on the basis of full cost accounting.

The market potential for Swiss fish is often overestimated
The annual fish consumption in Switzerland is between 7.5 and 8 kilograms per person. The total consumption stagnates. According to the Federal Statistical Office, only around 2 percent come from domestic production. The most widely consumed fish products are either marine fish (e.g. tuna, sea bream, saithe) or those that are exposed to high price pressure (e.g. salmon, canned fish, fish fingers) - all products that are not available domestically or cannot be produced profitably. In Swiss recirculation systems, noble fish are primarily fattened - mainly perch and pikeperch. Because of their high quality, they are valued by private households as well as by top gastronomy. Finding consumer prices that cover costs is still a challenge. The fish from Swiss indoor production represent a niche product. The sales market is limited.

Higher costs, greater effort and more know-how
Circulatory systems are required for indoor fish fattening. The rearing takes place in tanks. The holding water is cleaned in an integrated water treatment system and fed back into the holding basin. This technology is investment-intensive. For a recirculation system with an annual production of ten tons of fish, investment costs of several hundred thousand francs must be expected. At the same time, existing rooms usually have to be converted and a suitable heating and ventilation system installed. The operation of an indoor fish fattening facility requires a lot of know-how. It must be acquired on the one hand through a multi-day course (fbA Aquaculture) and a three-month internship, on the other hand through "learning by doing" with appropriate support. In addition, it has been shown that the effective workload can be up to 50 percent higher than assumed. This makes the “sideline” a branch of the business that should not be underestimated in terms of time required.

Economic efficiency is only given from 30 tons
The analyzes of fenaco currently indicate that the agricultural fish production in recirculation systems with a full cost calculation only becomes economically interesting from a production volume of around 30 tons per year and the associated use of economies of scale. Agricultural indoor fish production on this scale is currently not permitted. At the same time, the market for domestic pikeperch and perch in the high-price segment is saturated with existing agricultural and industrial fish farms and planned large-scale plants.

Successful in the niche
For farmers who have already invested in fish production and who serve a niche with their products, for example via direct marketing or court catering, the fattening of game fish can still be economically interesting. Outside of these niches, however, agricultural fish production in recirculation systems will hardly be able to establish itself due to the current framework conditions. Giving up an existing branch of business in favor of a new indoor fish production facility is therefore only advisable in individual cases at this point in time. That can change if the legal requirements are adjusted or market demand increases. The fenaco cooperative will be happy to support farmers who are considering setting up this branch of business with the knowledge gained from the test operation.